DVD Review: The Men From Shiloh

The Men From Shiloh must have confused Western fans who tuned in for a brand new series on NBC in the Fall of 1970. What they really watched was the ninth season of The Virginian. The Spaghetti Western was the rage in American movie theaters. The old TV show brightened itself up with elements from the hot trend in cowboy action. They hired Ennio Morricone to compose a brand new theme song. He’s the musical genius behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The opening credits were more dynamic with high contrast images of the old West and the new stars. The producers created a snazzy new feel to an old show. The Men From Shiloh doesn’t quite go the full Spaghetti Western. There’s no Cinemascope aspect ratio. The words and lips synch up for all the actors. The biggest element of the genre that isn’t imported is a reliance on silence in the scenes. Actors must have dialogue cause people at home don’t like that many staring contests on their TV shows.

The fresh direction starts with the news that Shiloh ranch has a new owner in Colonel Alan MacKenzie (Stewart Granger). The Englishman is ready to play cowboy in “The West vs. Colonel MacKenzie.” The Virginian (James Drury) remains part of his crew along with the always fun Trampas (Humanoids from the Deep‘s Doug McClure). The Colonel’s first problem is dealing with the Cattlemen’s Association. They’re up for lynching any small rancher who’s suspected of stealing cows. The Colonel opposes such ruthless measures. Don DeFore (Hazel) plays the mayor. “The Best Man” takes the action off the ranch. Trampas gets stuck between two men who want the same woman. Neither guy wants to loser her hand. Desi Arnaz (I Love Lucy) plays El Jefe. “Jenny” brings The Virginian to the aid of an old flame (Psycho‘s Janet Leigh). She’s being followed by shady characters and he needs to investigate.

“With Love, Bullets and Valentines” gets Trampas tangled in a bad hand of gambling on a riverboat. He wins a big pot that includes cash from Jack Albertson (Chico and the Man) and a different riverboat owned by Art Carney (The Honeymooners). Trouble is the money is bogus and the riverboat is a mess. He was better off losing. “The Mysterious Mr. Tate” marks the arrival of Lee Majors as Roy Tate. Lee had just wrapped up The Big Valley when he shifted western locations. The producers had him grow a mustache to hide his former character’s identity. But the facial hair only impresses the heart of the Colonel’s daughter Lark (Smallville‘s Annette O’Toole). She likes the bad boys and Tate is bad. He nearly gets lynched early in the episode. Later he does have to save Lark from kidnappers. “Gun Quest” gets The Virginian mistaken for a hired gun. A small town decides to convict him of the other guy’s crimes. This is a star studded affair with Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane), Anne Francis (Honey West), Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), Neville Brand (Without Warning) and Monte Markham (Baywatch). “Crooked Corner” let Tate get involved with the daughter of German immigrants. A group of masked neighbors want the new arrivals to mosey off their land. The scared people think Tate is the gunman they hired for protection. Walter Koenig (Star Trek) gets to use another European accent.

The Colonel gets injured on the road at the start of “The Price of the Hanging.” Tate rushes him to the nearest town only to discover the doctor is about to get hung. He needs a delayed sentence to save his boss’ life. Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best) is the doctor’s wife. The Virginian discovers a pre-hippie commune in “Experiment at New Life.” The folks start to practice group marriages which makes good sense when the residents include Vera Miles (Psycho), Sue Lyon (Lolita) and Ralph Meeker (Paths of Glory). “Last of the Comancheros” pits Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island) against James Gregory (Barney Miller). “Nan Allen” makes Tom Skeritt (Alien) a bad guy. “The Animal” forces Tate to defend a deaf mute Indian against charges of killing a rancher. This episode is a blast to the past with Chuck Connors (The Rifleman), Andy Devine (Stagecoach) and Jay Silverheels (The Lone Ranger) part of the trial drama. “The Legacy of Spencer Flats” has Trampas captured by Ann Sothern (The Manitou) and Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family). Why does Trampas want to escape? “The Angus Killer” scores with the arrival of Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles). “Tate, Ramrod” gets him in serious trouble when he fills in for a buddy at a ranch. He gets to take care of a family, flee from potential brides and duck a hired killer. Alan Hale Jr (Gilligan’s Island) arrives for the manic action. “The Regimental Line” brings a familiar face before the Colonel when troop arrive in town. He swears the guy who led his brother to the grave is among them. John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) and Randolph Mantooth (Emergency!) are part of the regiment. “Wolf Track” makes Tate deal with Clint Howard (Gentle Ben) and Pernell Roberts (Bonanza). “Jump-Up” ends the series with Tate in a bad news card game. Can he be saved by The Virginian? John Astin (The Addams Family) is behind the scheme.

Renaming The Virginian to The Men From Shiloh was a rather smart move. The tone and setting of the show had changed. The ranch wasn’t always the focus of the characters. The series felt more like an anthology with recurring character. The fans returned to the show as the ratings improved. However the nature of the show sealed its fate. Basically NBC was producing a feature film each week since the episodes are still 70 minutes long. That was just too much for the network. Thus the Virginian ended his stay on Shiloh. At least the producers infused a bit of Spaghetti Western fun into an American institution to send it out on a high note.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The remastering brings out the dust in the corrals. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are great for absorbing Morricone’s theme song.

Interviews include star James Drury (45:25), L.Q. Jones (28:21), Roberta Shore (19:41) and Clu Gulager (30:25). They discuss the changes in the series and the marathon shooting schedule of making a movie every week.

The Men From Shiloh: Special Edition adjusts the formula for The Virginian without ruining the Wild West excitement. The arrival of Lee Majors adds a bit more sex appeal to the oat action.

Timeless Media presents The Men From Shiloh: Special Edition. Starring: James Drury, Doug McClure, Stewart Granger and Lee Majors. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 9 DVDs. Released: August 26, 2014.